MasterCard International is flying high with news that its six-month- old premium product, the World credit card, is performing beyond initial expectations.
The card, issued by BankAmerica Corp. and Household Credit Services, was launched in October to compete with American Express' range of premium travel and entertainment cards.
In an announcement last week, MasterCard said average transaction amounts charged to the card have exceeded forecasts by 62%, and the average number of transactions per account was nearly three times original estimates.
MasterCard declined to reveal numbers of cardholders, but said it had reached various goals sooner than had been forecast.
Myra Koutzen, vice president of U.S. consumer credit for MasterCard, said World card customers were charging high volumes "right out of the gate."
The World MasterCard has no spending limit and gives cardholders the option to revolve a portion of their balances. Customers who pay fees of $50 to $100 can also receive travel rewards on any airline.
"The card has a very specific target audience," Ms. Koutzen said. "This is not like the platinum or gold card. It is definitely in a bracket where we don't expect to have as many cardholders."
Ms. Koutzen said MasterCard wanted to stay very focused on wealthy, high-spending consumers who need a travel and entertainment card.
"This is an underserved area within the bank card business," Ms. Koutzen said. "We believe our role as an association is to help our banks get into it and bring them sales volume that they would not be able to get otherwise."
Craig Stream, a spokesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Household, said the issuer is satisfied with the response rate and the way the card is being used. He declined to reveal customer numbers.
James L. Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., said the World card news was encouraging. "It sends a clear message that if you build something valuable, the consumer will pay for it."
Mr. Accomando said he was not convinced that there will be attrition from the American Express platinum card or other American Express products.
"If a bank has a card that costs $50, they will still not be able to pack in the muscle that goes into a product that someone is going to pay $300 for," he said.
But, he added, "at least now American Express has a competitor."
American Express said it has not seen a card from a bank that is comparable to its platinum card.
The platinum card was the fastest-growing portfolio in the company's consumer card franchise last year, with a growth rate of 8%, said Kathy Marryat, director of affluent marketing for the New York-based card company.
"We firmly believe that our product continues to be the best in the marketplace. There is no comparison out there," Ms. Marryat said. "If you used all of our services in one year, you could save up to $7,500, and we will continue to add benefits and services to the card."
MasterCard has also announced enhancements to the card, including discounts and upgrades at Summitt Hotel and Resorts and Avis Rent-A-Car. Cardholders will also receive a "priority pass card" at more than 200 airport lounges.